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Just how terrible is the Kobe extension for the Lakers?

Everyone knows that the Boston Red Sox went 86 years without winning a title. What a lot of people don't know is that the Red Sox brought a lot of that futility upon themselves. You see, the Boston Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate. Because of many reasons that I will not get into here (but mostly because of their less-than-sterling owner Tom Yawkey [Editor's note: don't you mean Sterling owner?]), the Red Sox refused to consider bringing in African American players. This self imposed competitive disadvantage crippled the Red Sox organization for the better part of the two decades following World War II and is one of the key reasons that the Red Sox did not win a banner again until the the 21st Century.

Why do I bring this up? You might not have heard, but the Lakers just signed Kobe Bryant to a massive $48.5 million dollar extension for the next two seasons. As of today, this will make him the league's highest paid player for those two seasons.

Twitter exploded when this happened. Here's a selection:

Seems like a pretty negative reaction, no? Then came the Zach Lowe piece. To summarize, everyone in the know thinks this is a terrible, franchise-crippling signing which the Lakers made for no apparent gain or reason. They certainly had no reason to extend Kobe before he shows that he has recovered from an injury that has ended multiple NBA careers. Let's deal with some facts:

  • The Mileage factor: Kobe Bryant is 35 years old and has played in 1459 NBA games. That is one year older -- and 350 more games -- than Michael Jordan after his second retirement with the Bulls. Oh, and the track record for comebacks from Achilles tears? Not good (here's a link to the excellent Deadspin piece on the subject)
  • The Kobe's earned it argument: The Lakers have paid Kobe Bryant a grand total of just about $280 million dollars through this season and, with this deal, have comitted to pay him a total of $328.5 million by the end of the 2015-16 season. Over his 18 seasons with the Lakers, Kobe has produced a grand total of 138 wins. At the going rate of $1.7 million per win for this season (which is paying him airport vending store rates, but bear with me), Kobe's earned about $235 million over his career. Even if we are extremely optimistic about the quality of German experimental medical care and assume that he produces an average number of wins for half this season and the next two (8.11 * 2.5 = 20.3 wins x $1.7 million/win = $34.5 million), that would put him at about $270 million worth of wins -- $10 million below what he's already been paid. So the Lakers do not actually owe him any lifetime achievement money.
  • The Kobe's worth it argument: Umm, that's a big no. Let's talk about reality. Kobe's averaged 7.5 wins for the Lakers over the last five years. That would put his value at $12.75 per year and $35.5 million for two years. And that's assuming that he comes back 100% (unlikely) and that he sees zero dropoff due to age (really not likely). A more realistic scenario has him at around 10 wins and a value of about 17 million for those two years. Basically, the Lakers overpaid Kobe by a max contract. Good job!
  • The Kobe's going to put this team over the top argument: A Mike D'Antoni team loses their high usage superstar and proceeds to play a high paced, high scoring, aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball while improbably winning a bunch of games and delighting their fan base. We've seen this movie before, haven't we? Much like Linsanity, the Swagtime Lakers are playing perfect D'Antoni ball, and also like Linsanity, I don't believe it'll survive the return of the high usage star. Much like Melo, Kobe doesn't quite fit with this style of basketball. Add in the facts that his mobility will be hampered and that this is by far the fastest-paced team he'll have ever played with? I have a sneaking suspicion the end game for this season will be very much like the end of Linsanity for New York.
  • The Kobe took a paycut so we can win a title argument: Nope. The deal absolutely kills the Lakers pipe dream of recreating the Heatles around Bryant this summer. The most cap space they could have is about $22 million, and that's if they keep Nash, renounce Gasol, pick late in the draft, and sign no new players. In that scenario, where does that leave Jordan Hill? Gone. Steve Blake? Goodbye. The chance of LeBron signing with the Lakers just went into imaginary numbers. The Lakers might get Melo if he's willing to take a paycut, but the NBA would have to pass a special dispensation allowing the Lakers to use two balls at a time in every game.        
  • The we have to pay Kobe or he might leave argument: See, I would do what Danny Ainge very wisely did with Paul Pierce: buy him a parting gift and wish him good luck on his way out (and maybe bilk some unsuspecting team of multiple lottery picks). But let's assume I feel like the Lakers do that it's imperative to keep Kobe to preserve the Lakers' brand (which, after 16 NBA titles, is utterly ridiculous, but follow me down the Jimmy Buss rabbit hole). Who am I bidding against exactly? The usual suspects -- the Knicks, Nets, and Clippers -- have no cap space. I can pay Kobe more than anyone else in the NBA and there is no team with cap space that is willing to pay him a ridiculous amount. Let him come back, show he can still play, and then we can negotiate at the end of the year.

It's very hard not to view this as a reflection of the change in how the Lakers are run. For the longest time, the Lakers were the model franchise and Dr. Jerry Buss had the aura of being the smartest man in the room. His Lakers always got it done. They always got their man.

First we had the CP3 non-trade, then we had the Dwightmare, and now we have the Kobecide. The Lakers are not that team anymore.

I leave you with three final tweets to think about:

The Lakers have somehow become the Knicks.

As a GSW fan, this signing made my day. I was literally laughing with glee when I read the news reports. It's official, Buss is Chris Farley.
As a Celtics fan I would still rather have the 2010 title than this, but it feels so good! I haven't been able to stand Lakers fans talking about how great Kobe is (yeah, he's been a really good player, but not to the level they say). How did he do after he drove Shaq out of town? How did he do after the Lakers were given Pau? Oh yeah, they were league average at best in between the team have one of the top 3 centers in the league. The win/loss record pre-Pau and post-Pau is just insane. Obviously adding a great player will help any team, but not shooting over 20 shots a game is also a good idea, even for a much more efficient player like Lebron. The tragedy of it all is that Kobe was coached by Phil for most of his career and the triangle could get him great looks. Kobe is a great catch-and-shoot player but he always wanted to ISO at least 5 times a game.
I thought Jeanie Buss was going to SSAC? Or does she not count as a representative for the Lakers?
Ah, my mistake, read the year wrong.
Here's my question. All the discussion on Kobe taking a paycut seems to be operating under the assumption that they would automatically contend for a title if he did; i.e., assuming that the Lakers would instantly be able to sign Carmelo and Lebron to max deals as they came available. Where is that guaranteed? Tim Duncan took a large paycut last year and he didn't win a title and, let's be honest, the Spurs' management is FAR superior to anything the Lakers have.
People always say that Lebron next year is not going to happen. So Kobe should have taken a paycut so the Lakers could sign Bosh and Carmelo? Great, so the Lakers still wouldn't be favored to win a title and would then be saddled with two albatross contracts that aren't going to win. If you can simply acknowledge that the Lakers' management has destroyed this team for the next few years with their casual disregard for draft picks, then signing Kobe is actually a great thing. It forces the Lakers to stand still for a couple years and get their house in order. Maybe they still get Kevin Love in two years, he plays for a year with Kobe and then Kobe is off the books. How is that worse than four years of Carmelo and Bosh getting knocked out in the second round?
There is no valid on-the-court justification for Kobe's extension. This is very much a reflection of the old Laker Way, rather than a departure from Dr. Buss.

In the late 1980s, the Lakers continued to make Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the highest-paid player on the Lakers and in the NBA, despite his advanced age and declining skills (though he still averaged 18PPG on 56% shooting at the age of 40!).

In 1991, after Magic's first retirement due to contracting HIV, Dr. Buss insisted on giving Magic a contract extension anyways, despite thinking he would never play again, because he felt that Magic had been underpaid.

Kobe hasn't been underpaid like Magic (the God of Wins Produced) but the Lakers care about things like treating their signature players well, which explains his extension (though it doesn't justify it).

As a Lakers fan, I'm glad Kobe will be ending his career with the Lakers, but I've also just written off the Lakers from championship contention for the next few years.
Let's be honest though, even if Kobe was making $5mn/yr, did anyone think the Lakers were winning a title in the next couple years? Lebron isn't coming and a team of Kobe, Bosh, Carmelo is not going to win the championship (assuming those players actually agreed to join the Lakers).
Chris,
I agree with that sentiment. One darkside of that mindset is how frequently the Lakers snub players that were huge parts of their success. Rambis, Odom, Pau? These players were huge contributors to winning teams that were shown the door or put on the block in favor of the "Face of the Franchise" players.
I agree with Dre. If the Lakers were so worried about rewarding loyalty, etc, they should have overpaid guys like A.C. Green and Kurt Rambis, and not basically thrown Pau under the bus to the media at every opportunity.

This team owes Kobe nothing. Unlike Magic, Kareem, etc, he was basically never underpaid.

Tundra,

Interesting argument. It's kind of like when I said the best thing about David Kahn trading away draft picks is that now he can't possibly screw up in the draft!
I agree that the Lakers have treated Pau shabbily. He's been a great professional. But as it turns out, the Lakers would have been lucky to trade him and Odom for CP3.

Rambis wasn't snubbed per se; he and AC played the same position, which meant that the Hornets were able to nab him in the expansion draft.

As for Kobe, I think Zach Lowe put it best when he called Kobe "the NBA's Voldemort" and his rabid fans "his death-eaters." Kobe love is totally irrational, a combination of having watched him grow up before our very eyes, his aesthetically pleasing (if unnecessarily inefficient) game, and the five championships for which he can claim partial responsibility.

But Magic Johnson is still the greatest Laker ever. People who say Kobe is are nuts.
I think you could make a pretty good "it helps the team make money and stay culturally relevant" argument. Justified or not (actually, just not), Kobe is considered one of the best in the game by the almighty sports gods at ESPN et al, and still ranks at or near the top in jersey sales every year. As long as he is on that team, the Lakers are going to sell out most of their games and move a ton of merchandise with his name on it.

Plus they absolutely worship the guy in LA. There would be an angry mob outside the Staples Center if they somehow didn't resign him, and even a mildly contentious contract dispute would be a public relations disaster.

"THE DISRESPECT THEY ARE SHOWING KOBE IS ASTOUNDING! DERP CLUTCH GENE! DERP"
--Skip Bayless

So I can see the rationale
Chris,

I agree that it is good for teams to show loyalty but there is a big difference now that we have the salary cap. Dr. Buss could give that money to Magic and it only cost him money, it didn't effect the team. Now I do agree with the argument some are putting forward that there isn't anyone the team would want to add in the next two years that they could actually get. If that is the case than keep Kobe there for the fan love and slowly try to acquire assets without caring about winning.

The thing I think is most interesting though is that this exposes Kobe's claim that he ONLY cares about rings to be a complete lie. He wants to be acknowledged as the highest paid player. I have no problem with him going for the money, but I do have a problem with the fact that everyone bought his claim that he only cares about rings when I have long thought that it wasn't the case.
Of course Kobe cares about rings but let's all keep it in context. If all he wanted was a ring then he could sign for the vet minumum and played for the Heat next year (assuming Lebron is back) and he would most likely get another ring. How much credit would he really get for that ring though? Kobe wants rings to add to his legacy, not to decorate his fingers. He doesn't add to his legacy by being the third/fourth best player on the team and so he wants to get paid like the second best player at a minimum.

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